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Mayor Dickens, Don’t Draw Lines, Share Space on Peachtree Street

This post comes from the Save Share Peachtree Coalition Organizing Committee, which organized a well-attended protest on Peachtree Street yesterday, and has gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to save this great project.

Mayoral elections have consequences. We never imagined that the election that installed Andre Dickens as the 61st Mayor of the City of Atlanta would lead to the shocking, unexplained termination of a project that promises to transform Peachtree Street into the centerpiece of Atlanta’s public realm.

Our expectations were justifiably high for Mayor Dickens, a self-proclaimed champion of transportation and innovation, always eager to tout his sponsorship of legislation that established the City’s Department of Transportation in 2019. Certainly the bar set by his predecessor was the floor. Under Mayor Bottoms’ administration, efforts led by the Department of City Planning to repair and remake Atlanta’s urban fabric downtown were consistently ignored or undermined (e.g., the conversion of Baker Street from one-way to two-way that was vetoed over Council approval, and the transfer of one block of Mitchell Street from the City to the State of Georgia).

We were therefore eager to see how the Peachtree Shared Space would progress and flourish under a bold and progressive new mayor with great ambitions in the transportation realm, as Mayor Dickens fashions himself.

There could be no better opportunity for such a mayor to advance than this one. The Peachtree Shared Space is the result of a methodical planning, design, engagement, and demonstration process funded in 2018 by the Atlanta Regional Commission in the amount of $500,000.

It has been deeply intentional, evidence-based, and well-documented. It features extensive public engagement (despite challenging pandemic conditions) and strong support from many downtown stakeholders, including CAP/ADID, Banyan Street Capital (owners of Peachtree Center and 191 Peachtree), AmericasMart, the Westin Peachtree Plaza, Southern Exchange (200 Peachtree), and the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association.

Most importantly, the Peachtree Street Shared Space models and inspires the transformation of Atlanta’s public realm from one that can be enormously hostile to people, to one that embodies the highest of our civic aspirations. Especially during this period of remarkable growth in Atlanta, it is essential that we remake the downtown section of our signature street into a place for people and public life, a place that creates and sustains community and belonging.

Share Peachtree Protest
Photo from the protest on Peachtree Street yesterday

All this is now in jeopardy.

To stop now, to refuse to proceed as planned with Phases 2 and 3 is to turn our backs on the future of our city as a place for people, not just cars. In a March 10th email release to the public, the City confirmed the success of Phase 1: “the demonstration found an average increase of 27% of pedestrians and a decrease of 11% in the total number of vehicles and helped us advance the living streets concept in Atlanta.”

We say to our ‘Transportation Mayor’, let this desperately needed transformation of our deadly, car-choked roads into vibrant public spaces continue. Do not delay; the funds are there.

Phase 1, which is what the City of Atlanta’s Department of Transportation under the leadership of ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan intends to demolish this week, was funded by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Phase 2, which is scheduled to start in April, was funded with $225,000 in 2020 through Downtown Decides, a participatory budgeting program sponsored by District 2 Council Member Amir Farokhi, through whose Council district this section of Peachtree Street runs.

Phase Two Peachtree
What Phase Two will look like, according to the project’s website

The $1.5 Million in funding for the design of Phase 3, which is the long-term, permanent transformation of this section of Peachtree Street, was approved by the ARC Board just last Wednesday, March 9, 2022, the day before the City’s shocking announcement that the entire project was being terminated.

Of course, this is Atlanta. No one claims this will be easy. Our long-standing capitulation to cars, the lack of transparency in decision-making, the intimacy between our civic leaders and powerful special interests–these headwinds conspire against nurturing people-centered places. No wonder opponents of the Peachtree Shared Space have angrily pushed back with arguments about the elimination of street parking, increased wait times at intersections, loss of loading and unloading zones, and have raised doubts about the ability of transit operators and rescue and emergency workers to do their jobs.

The 30-, 60-, and 90-day reports on the Peachtree Shared Space published by the Department of City Planning diligently addressed several of these concerns. These extensive reports noted:

  • a typical delay at intersections of 3 to 5 seconds on weekdays and 1 to 5 seconds on weekends
  • the existence of city ordinances that prohibit loading and parking in this section of Peachtree Street and the need for businesses to use side streets for deliveries,
  • the installation of two pull-off areas to accommodate MARTA Mobility transit operators
  • and confirmation from rescue and emergency workers that they were able to continue providing adequate service.

With respect to lost street parking, we will merely mention the 12 parking garages in the immediate vicinity, from Baker Street south to Ellis Street, and Ted Turner Drive east to Peachtree Center Avenue.

Atlantans are resilient. We rise, again, and again. We recognize the people adjusting and adapting to a reconfigured Peachtree Street. We join and applaud those urging Atlanta forward more quickly into a future that is firmly for people. All that is needed to ensure this future is a strong mayor with the head, the heart, and the hands to lead us there.

Throughout his campaign and his mayoralty thus far, Mayor Dickens’s favorite refrain has been: “I draw circles, not lines.”

Mayor Dickens, don’t draw a line against those of us who desire a Peachtree Street for the people of Atlanta. Help us find ways to improve upon this successful experiment and vision for the future of downtown and the future of our city and region. Help us, #SaveSharePeachtree.

– The Save Share Peachtree Coalition Organizing Committee